By Christopher O’Shea
In the midst of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon declared a war of his own: the War on Drugs. Just like the Vietnam War, the War on Drugs was ill informed, misguided, and would be dragged out for years. Both have a legacy of costing lives, resources, and taxpayer money while ultimately causing more harm than good.
The War in Vietnam would end in 1973, with Vietnam united under Communist rule in 1975. 11 years and over one million deaths later, US foreign policy had only delayed the inevitable. A lesson the US should have learned in this war is that sometimes there are fights you just can’t win. 27 years after the start of the Drug War, and it is clear that this lesson fell on deaf ears.
Since the War on Drug began, the US prison population has risen by 700%. Currently, 2.2 million people are incarcerated, most of them for drug-related crimes. To put that in perspective, that’s larger than the entire population of Houston. All of these arrests must mean that drug use has plummeted since the early 70s right?
Sadly, no. According the LA Times, drug use was responsible for the deaths of over 37,000 people in the United States in 2009, more than deaths for car accidents that year. Of the 865 tons of cocaine produced in 2008, Americans consumed 165 tons. American citizens also abused 22 tons of the 450 tons of heroin that same year. To top it all off, American usage of cannabis has doubled over the past decade.
Cannabis usage may seem to be the outlier here simply due to its growing national acceptance, Jeff Sessions notwithstanding, but it brings us to a larger point: the best way to fight this growing drug problem is to decriminalize and legalize most drugs. Drugs like MDMA, LSD, mushrooms (Psilocybin), and Cannabis are all proven to be non-lethal, not to mention none are chemically addictive.
It shouldn’t be a felony to be caught with drugs are less harmful than a Big Mac from McDonald’s. Let people trip out and listen to house music. As long as they are not hurting anyone, it isn’t the government’s business what they put in their body.
In regards to the harder drugs like heroin, meth, and cocaine, we can make a case for legalization. Let’s just take baby steps, however, and look at decriminalization.
If the US decriminzalized possession of illicit drugs, you could still make it illegal to sell or distribute them. Thus, the product would still be theoretically harder to come by. However, if someone is seeking help in curing their addiction, they wouldn’t need to fear arrest when admitting they have a problem.
Just imagine if the collective trillion dollars the US has spent on the War on Drugs went towards rehabilitation efforts. Those who realize their mistakes and want to turn their lives around should be able to get help.
People who have made mistakes and need our help, not our damnation, are largely the victims of the Drug War. The United States was once viewed as the nation of second chances. If you tripped up and fell down, there was always a sense that you could get back up and build the life you want. We as a nation should extend our hand to those who have fallen down, not throw them in a cell to make sure they never get back up.